Cubs' Craig Kimbrel's spring struggles no cause for closer controversy — yet

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Tim Stebbins
·2 min read
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No closer controversy in Cubs camp — yet originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

It may be too early to deem a closer controversy brewing in Cubs camp.

But veteran right-hander Craig Kimbrel is off to a rough start this spring, with some of his struggles and mechanical issues resembling what he experienced last season.

“[Friday was] the first day I thought kind of looked a little like some of the older characteristics that we identified last year,” Cubs manager David Ross said Saturday of Kimbrel. “I think that's what they're kind of looking at this morning and trying to reevaluate those keys.”

Kimbrel, 32, lost the Cubs closer job a week into the 2020 season after four down outings, struggling with his mechanics. He worked through those issues to bounce back, turning in a 1.42 ERA over his final 12 2/3 innings — including 7 1/3 scoreless September innings.

The right-hander was tagged for four earned runs Friday vs. Milwaukee, walking two batters in 2/3 of an inning. He’s allowed nine earned runs on seven hits in three outings this spring, walking two while striking out one in 2 2/3 innings. 

"[Friday] was probably one of the outings that most resembled some of his struggles," Ross said. “That second, third outing for a lot of these guys have not been sharp for most of them. So, I think Craig falls in that category as well. 

“The ball just wasn't coming out like it normally could. It didn't look like it had much behind it in general. Even though the radar gun said 94, 95 [mph] it just wasn't so explosive as it normally is.”

It’s only spring training, so take Kimbrel’s early results for whatever it’s worth. On the other hand, he’s only had a couple of extended stretches of success with the Cubs, the end of last season being one example.

Ross cited the Cubs' pitch lab as a resource they can use to get Kimbrel back on track. And his finish to last season at least offers them a blueprint to help him make the necessary adjustments.

"[It's about] identifying what went wrong," Ross said, "and being able to go back to some cues and some keys of what works best for him mechanically to get him into position to spin the ball the right way, and get strikes and get the ball working the way it does when he has success."

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